1981: Quest for the most unbelievably unpalatable cocktail

➤ Farewell to vodka and tonic. Enter the Goodall Street Gargle Blaster

First published in TES, Feb 12, 1982

First published in TES, Feb 12, 1982

Wherever young people gather, they seem to compete to concoct the most appalling mix of drinks in one glass – and then give their cocktail a ridiculous name. Once news of these nightowl habits reached the Times Educational Supplement, it decided that the nation’s teachers should be alerted to the pupil perils. Inquiries reveal it’s the girls who are most willing to experiment…

[Looking for Harry Cool? Keep scrolling on down]

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❚ IT WAS NAOMI’S 20TH BIRTHDAY PARTY that brought home the sheer ingenuity which the young can apply in the name of celebration. The birthday girl was holding court in the Royal Oak, Marylebone. Since recessionist chic had enforced a pub rendezvous, consolation was demanded of the pub prices. They were to fuel a race to oblivion beside which the indulgences of Coleridge and de Quincey would indeed seem a bit of mischief in the kitchen.

Her Blitz Kid guests had two choices: to slip a vodka, lime or tonic into the pint glass in Naomi’s right hand, or to contribute to the left, perhaps a Guinness and blackcurrant??? “It takes away the bitter edge,” she explained.

The orders for a round couldn’t have sounded more poisonous if we’d been at a Borgia bacchanal. Strapping John merely wanted his lager with blackcurrant but Little John asked for cider with Cherry B! And Fiona, cider with Pernod!!! Steve stuck to Guinness with bourbon (“Bourbon kills its wholesomeness,” he feels) and Daryl, Mackeson with tomato juice, yuk (“Really slimy, to line the stomach”).

Graham seemed positively passé clutching our father’s favourite, the Snakebite (lager, cider, blackcurrant), so notorious a mix that some pubs won’t serve them, even as separate ingredients. Jackie reckoned she can manage five of them before braincells self-destruct; another Steve relished the promise of fused memory banks the morning after; and to this already lurid Snakebite potion, Myra added Pernod for a Psychedelic Snakebite. “Earth orbit,” she predicted.

These unholy revelations at Naomi’s party prompted wider inquiry. The quest for the Unbelievably Unpalatable Cocktail was well advanced among dedicated drinkers who evidently view the bar like a NASA launchpad. They are nominally aged 18 of course and many are the barmen prepared to believe them. Not surprisingly, adolescent motives are somewhat confused but a telling vocabulary indicates the nature of their goal: “brain damage”, “major paralysis”, “out of my head”, “off my box”.

“Two shots of Pernod into a half of dry cider get you well merry,” Jeffrey said. “I enjoy feeling drunk 24 hours a day.”

Gerry from Ulster said: “I don’t like seeing girls drunk and I can’t enjoy myself unless I am, so it’s usually with the lads. When we’re bored we play Jacks where we make up stupid drinks. Ordinarily I like vodka and gin topped up with lager.”

“Lots of people have left spirits for lager with
all sorts in it. It could be the expense: they’re
stretching spirits into long drinks”

Wendy from Walsall thinks there are still plenty of Romeos trying to get girls drunk “but a lot of guys can’t drink as much as we can. With a girlfriend I might get through four bottles of Valpolicella and a few pills. It helps loosen the tongue. I’m not hellbent on getting drunk like the guys.” And this from the girl who devised her own Goodall Street Gargle Blaster: fresh orange, gin, vodka, peppermint essence and anything else handy. “Plus one of those chewy dessert things from the Pakistani shop,” she said. “When you finally bite into that – lift-off!”

These random and admittedly unscientific instances of creative drinking proved to be well developed across the land. In towns historically used to setting trends, pubs confirmed the invasion of the unbelievable cocktail. At Birmingham’s Yard of Ale, the manager said: “The old days of vodka and tonic have gone. Over the past year we’ve gone from traditional mixes to real experimentation. The young ones come up with such weird names like the Purple Paratrooper (that’s sweet cider and sherry), Mickey Mouse, Red Devil, Black Knight and the Leg-over.

“It’s the girls who try the odd mixtures and they’re drinking more than they used to. Lots of people have left spirits for lager with all sorts in it. It could be the expense: they’re stretching spirits into long drinks. I don’t think they aim to get drunk, though we see that element at weekends. Once they pass their twentieth birthday they steady up anyway.”

Down, down: Classic pose at the Friday-night Beat Route. Photograph © by Shapersofthe80s

Down, down: Classic pose at the Friday-night Beat Route. Photograph © by Shapersofthe80s

Brighton, Newcastle and Glasgow barmen all confirmed increased drinking among girls, as did the licensee of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Rooms. He said: “Years ago you only had a splash with a short; today the big move is to longer drinks. Pernod is the favourite short perhaps with cider as a Red Witch for girls. Second, it’s vodka with lemonade or used to top up a Cherry B. I imagine that’s quite obnoxious.

“Prices are one reason and another is that they pass through here to go clubbing till 2am so they have to stay relatively sober. Goodness knows what they end up like. The drinks are more adventurous now and the young have confidence in their drinking habits. If they’re under age, they don’t think twice about walking into a pub.”

This of course is precisely what confirms the worst suspicions of the professional counsellors. The National Council on Alcoholism say that in the past decade it was the under-25s who were drinking themselves on to the rocks faster than ever, especially girls. “As many girls as boys have a drink problem,” the director says.

“Teenagers enjoy a bit of skirmishing with
drink and those mixtures sound like
good old-fashioned hedonism to me”

And at their annual conference in January, Northamptonshire’s Council on Alcoholism urged education to start as early as age eight. Director David Young says: “By the time he’s eight, a child can observe the behavioural changes drink produces. I am concerned at the increasing use of alcohol by young people because often they don’t recognize what it does to them. Paul Wilson’s inquiry¹ in 1980 showed that people are starting to drink younger. We say the earlier they start, the earlier they’ll hit problems.”

Observers actually involved in research on the subject voice scepticism about the scale of drink “problems”. Ann Hawker who mounted a survey² on school-age drinkers six years ago, says: “An awful lot is talked about it, but teen alcoholism itself is a rarity. I was most surprised that the majority of my sample were drinking sensibly, given that money is restricted and a bottle of wine costs less than the cinema.

“Over all, I was not alarmed by their habits. A group will always drink for effect, that is, to get high. What I did find was that they really didn’t know the difference between the strengths of wine and sherry. What is absolutely horrifying is the link they fail to make between drinking and driving when they can ride motorcycles at 16.”

The most up-to-date fieldwork is still being conducted among 15 and 16-year-olds in Lothian by Edinburgh University’s Alcohol Research Group. Preliminary findings are due to be published this spring in a book³ edited by Dr Martin Plant. He is scathing about the gulf between agencies who lack expertise and yet quote specific figures and the people studying the subject scientifically.

Atomic-Cocktail30

“A substantial number of official pronouncements on alcohol use and misuse appear to be based on speculation rather than evidence. One reason is the lack of evidence. For example, has anyone demonstrated that alcohol education does any good? It is striking that our survey finds no relation between a person’s habits and their level of alcohol education, however inadequate that might have been.

“Nor are there any data to show people drinking at an earlier age or that girls are drinking as much as boys. They are not, although the gap has certainly narrowed. We do find that a substantial minority of our sample are regular drinkers (45 per cent boys, 32 per cent girls) and many even experience intoxication and hangovers. But that is not the same as becoming dependent.

“What is worrying is that 2 per cent experience school problems like absenteeism through drink. It is very rare but the fact that at 15 they are allowing booze to disrupt their lives at all is extremely alarming. Interestingly though, that 2 per cent is much the same figure for absenteeism among adult factory workers. Given that alcohol consumption generally is rising, what is overwhelmingly reassuring is the lack of evidence of serious problems. The British have a tendency anyway to drink infrequently but when we do, we often do so to get plastered.”

As for those nightmare cocktails, they seem to display all the hallmarks of copycat fads which are familiar enough to teachers; like gluesniffing (an area where unfortunately there is a paucity of factual data) a fad can infect one school yet be totally absent from another half a mile away.

The Liverpool Philharmonic’s licensee said: “Fancy drinks are only a trend. It takes a few people to invent something different one night for it to catch on.”

Dr Plant adds: “Teenagers enjoy a bit of skirmishing with drink and those mixtures sound like good old-fashioned hedonism to me. There is no reason why teachers should not offer pupils accurate information about drink though they should not feel obliged to. I cannot honestly say it will do any good. Against the influence of a kid’s family, a teacher’s words are probably water off a duck’s back.”

REFERENCES

1, Drinking in England and Wales. By Paul Wilson (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, 1980). 2, Adolescents and Alcohol. By Ann Hawker (Brian Edsall & Co, 1978). 3, Drinking and Problem Drinking. Edited by Dr Martin Plant (Junction Books, April 1982).

Text © Shapersofthe80s

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➤ Say, who are the new
bigshots at the bar?

Spookily enough, hanging with the Blitzy Kids at Naomi’s birthday party at the Royal Oak was the coolest columnist on the payroll of New Sounds New Styles. He was Harry Cool, some scribbler with attitude who wrote like he’d stepped outta the pages of a Raymond Chandler detective novel. He penned this eerily similar account of that starry crowd’s drinking habits…

First published in New Sounds New Styles, Sept 1981. Illustration by Conny Jude

❚ HI, I’M COOL. HARRY COOL. And I’m number one dick. Heebie-jeebies, does little ole London swing! I blew in from Stateside this summer and ran into an old playmate, a cutie named Velma who has the hottest lips since Hiroshima. They spelt goodbye gangsters and guns, hello laughter and love.

“Some real bigshots are taking over the liquor racket,” she said, “and you gotta flush ’em out, PDQ. I’m partying with the mob tonight – a bar called the Royal Oak, just up from that strange club, Heroes. Be there or be square.”

By the time we met up, there was this glow on the jukebox and body music at the bar. The dolls were loaded and so were the drinks. “Gimme a Pernod with creme de menthe,” ordered Velma. I winced. That kind of poison would have meant business to the Borgias. “Nobody takes it straight any more, not since Whisky Mac was run out of town,” she explained. “The new syndicate says Mix It – and they don’t mean no cissy cocktails.”

Velma emptied her glass. Within seconds she was as dead to the world as a Gary Numan clone. I clocked the crowd. There was Fiona, a big bountiful babe, sinking a Tia Maria topped with Vodka – yeuch! – and Johnny K, drummer with some bally band of romancers, downing cider spiked with Cherry B. How could he?

Steve, a beaty, rootsy deejay, took a slug of bourbon in his Guinness, shame on him – “Kills its wholesomeness,” he rapped – while Daryl with the flat-top used tomato juice in Mackeson. “Real slimy for lining the stomach,” he said. A finger tapped me on the shoulder with a plaintive request: “Go on, Harry, buy us a drink.” It was the all-too-frequent cry for help from George, an oh-so-dowdy gender-bender. His choice: a lager laced with blackcurrant. Crazee!

I was just thinking how passé a doodler name of Graham looked with his old-fashioned snakebite when some pint-sized hood slipped one to me. The rest of that night I had Motorhead playing in my skull. My trip had turned into a triple-X rated screamie but I had to find the hitmen.

Next night I got a lead at Ollie’s Friday-night dive, down down past Soho’s Talk of the Town. I met a tailor from Cardiff known only as Ess. “Try a Jayne Mansfield,” he whispered. “Shoot a double Pernod into a can of Special Brew. It’ll blow your head off.” (And if you don’t get the full implications of that, ask your dad about Jayne, one of Hollywood’s buxomest and blondest bombshells.)

“Psst!” hissed a stylewise tramp called Linard, pushing a glass over to me. “Ever had a Jellybean? It’s putting out the lights all over Southend.” Before you could say Bogart my brain was dancing on the floor. I needed three days to come round in a darkened room.

The trail was leading out of town so I called up some friends at Sylvester’s, the Warehouse, even a Top Rank down south, but there was No Story as they say on Sunset Strip. “Our kids are good kids,” said Mike at Flick’s in Dartford. “Gin and tonic is as far as they go.”

Then I lucked right in. “Yep, we get the exotic drinks here,” said the Philharmonic in Liverpool. “Pernod’s our number one – mixed with cider. And with blackcurrant. They call it a Red Witch.”

Aboard the first train north, the trail began to burn. “I got something that’ll fix you buster.” Behind me in the buffet a familiar voice delivered the heat. It was my old adversary Degville, the Attila of Brum. An Imperial pint was aimed my way. “I call it a Golden Velvet Knickerbocker Zombie,” he spat. “A little medicine of my own, doctored with vanilla ice-cream.” The quick-thinking steward saved my neck: “Sorry bud, the vanilla’s off.”

In the confusion at New Street I leapt the oblivion express, gave Degville the slip and made for the Yard of Ale because of something he’d let drop. The boss there confirmed my suspicions: “Recent months have seen some weird experiments. The kids come in asking for Mickey Mouses, Leg-overs, Yellow Devils, Purple Paratroopers, you name it . . .”

I wasn’t listening. Along the bar this hotsy had me pop-eyed and she was no Olive Oyl. Said Wendy was her name, salesgirl her game. She sure had plenty to sell. Her eyes promised the best bang since the big one. “I’ve got what you want,” she smiled. “Called the Goodall Street Gargle Blaster, speciality of Walsall.”

She ordered one doublequick, then dropped in something sticky. “One of those sweets from the Pakistani shop,” she purred. “Just bite it and see . . .” I was a slave to her charms. I supped up and bit hard. Detonation! All I heard was Velma cackling in the shadows: “So long sucker.” I’d been well and truly blitzed. And by a kid! I’ve never lived it down.

All text © Shapersofthe80s.com

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